Stage: My 5 favorite things from 2021

When stages finally came back alive this past year, audiences rejoiced, welcoming fresh productions or ones that were put on hold by the pandemic. Performing arts organizations relished the idea of making connections with audiences once again. Of the many productions on San Diego’s stages, here are my favorite five.

“Once on This Island,” Moonlight Stage Productions
On June 16, Vista’s Moonlight Amphitheatre became the first San Diego County theater to reopen for live performances, with a well-cast and upbeat production of this tropical fairytale musical. As a 36-year resident of Vista and longtime Moonlight attendee, it felt wonderful to welcome theater back among a hometown crowd of exuberant and grateful Vistans.

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Kory LaQuess Pullam and Deja Fields in “1222 Oceanfront: A Black Family Christmas” at New Village Arts.(New Village Arts)

“1222 Oceanfront: A Black Family Christmas,” New Village Arts
For decades, Dea Hurston has been a donor to San Diego theaters and supporter of local artists of color. But on Nov. 27, she achieved her long-held dream of becoming a produced playwright, with the opening of her first commissioned play at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad.

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Marcel Ferrin, left, Amira Temple, Kay Marian McNellen, Daren Scott, top right, and Christopher Louie Szabo in “Witchland.” (Studio B Productions)

“Witchland,” Backyard Renaissance Theatre
Leave it to the daring Backyard troupe to create new theater that can’t be experienced at home. This horror comedy by new playwright Tim Mulligan was staged in an immersive environment, with special effects, jump scares and a spooky witch who seemed to pop up wherever you least expected (including behind and below you) during the show.

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Some of the retro letters Old Globe ticket-buyers will receive in the mail for its at-home “Dear Jack, Dear Louise: Love Letter Experience.”(Pam Kragen/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“Dear Jack, Dear Louise,” The Old Globe
Kudos to the Globe’s props department for meticulously re-creating World War II-era letters, telegrams, military V-mail and postcards for this “mailbox theater” show that told the mostly true story of playwright Ken Ludwig’s parents’ epistolary courtship. Over a series of weeks, ticket-buyers received these exchanges by mail to experience the couple’s growing relationship, from strangers to newlyweds.

“Unmasking the Music of Notorious Pandemics,” San Diego Opera
As a prelude to its parking lot production of “Barber of Seville” last spring, conductor Bruce Stasyna curated and conducted this fascinating, eclectic and not-at-all-depressing concert of songs inspired by pandemics, including Bach’s Cantata No. 25, written after a leprosy outbreak, songs from “The Secret Garden,” which begins with a cholera epidemic, the 1930s-era protest song “The 1919 Influenza Blues” and “Seasons of Love” from the AIDS-themed musical “Rent.”

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